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Porn, Pain, and Healing (and some free books)

Porn’s in the news. The secular, mainstream news.

TIME magazine recently featured a cover story “Porn and the Threat to Virility.” The article is behind a paywall, but it opens this way (all emphasis is mine):

A growing number of young men are convinced that their sexual responses have been sabotaged because their brains were virtually marinated in porn when they were adolescents. Their generation has consumed explicit content in quantities and varieties never before possible, on devices designed to deliver content swiftly and privately, all at an age when their brains were more plastic—more prone to permanent change—than in later life. These young men feel like unwitting guinea pigs in a largely unmonitored decade-long experiment in sexual conditioning.

The Washington Post followed up with an essay titled,  Is porn immoral? That doesn’t matter: It’s a public health crisis:

Using a wide range of methodologies, researchers from a number of disciplines have shown that viewing pornography is associated with damaging outcomes. In a study of U.S. college men, researchers found that 83 percent reported seeing mainstream pornography, and that those who did were more likely to say they would commit rape or sexual assault (if they knew they wouldn’t be caught) than men who hadn’t seen porn in the past 12 months. The same study found that porn consumers were less likely to intervene if they observed a sexual assault taking place. In a study of young teens throughout the southeastern United States, 66 percent of boys reported porn consumption in the past year; this early porn exposure was correlated with perpetration of sexual harassment two years later. A recent meta-analysis of 22 studies between 1978 and 2014 from seven different countries concluded that pornography consumption is associated with an increased likelihood of committing acts of verbal or physical sexual aggression, regardless of age. A2010 meta-analysis of several studies found “an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women.”

And it’s not making the men who use porn happy, either. An opinion piece in the Telegraph UK picks up one of the threads in the articles above: that porn is not only ruining relationships, it’s ruining even casual sex.  The article says:

This message – that porn isn’t enhancing real sex, but scuppering it – is much more likely to resonate with teenagers than the fire and brimstone approach of the anti-pornography feminists, internet censors or the Church, especially as kids intrinsically want to do things that they aren’t supposed to.

This sentiment caught my eye. Everyone seems to agree that the Christian warning against porn is irrelevant and ineffective, and that what we really need is an evidence-based argument for why porn damages both men and women and makes sex less enjoyable and meaningful, and even, for heavy users, less possible.

Never mind that that is the Christian message — or it should be. I guess it wouldn’t be too hard to find a preachy type who insists that porn is bad because it’s too much fun, and fun is dirty, and wimmin are evil temptresses who don’t want you to be strong and pure. There is a lot of misogynistic, puritanical, body-loathing crap masquerading as concern for purity. If you’ve encountered something like that, I’m sorry. I apologize on behalf of the numbnuts who somehow got the idea that Christ Incarnate hates the human body. And I’m here to tell you that the Christian message is supposed to be this:

Porn damages both men and women and makes sex less enjoyable and meaningful, and even, for heavy users, less possible.

Just like the secular world is finally starting to figure out.

It’s an awful lot like the conversations that are happening around contraception. The Church has always taught that contraception is bad for women. The secular world has always pooh-poohed the Church, because it’s the Church. The secular world went whole hog for contraception. And now the secular world is slowly discovering, “Hey, contraception is kind of bad for women!” And Catholics sigh and tactfully point out the cheapest place to find fertility test sticks.

But wait, there’s more! The secular psychologist and researcher John Gottman (whose book on marriage I recommend) has written an open letter saying that, in the past, his institute thought porn was usually harmless, and even recommended the mutually agreed-upon use of porn as a way to “increase relationship connection and intimacy.”

Gottman now says that, after much study, he is “led to unconditionally conclude that for many reasons, pornography poses a serious threat to couple intimacy and relationship harmony.”

First, intimacy for couples is a source of connection and communication between two people.  But when one person becomes accustomed to masturbating to porn, they are actually turning away from intimate interaction. Second, when watching pornography the user is in total control of the sexual experience, in contrast to normal sex in which people are sharing control with the partner. Thus a porn user may form the unrealistic expectation that sex will be under only one person’s control. Third, the porn user may expect that their partner will always be immediately ready for intercourse … Fourth, some porn users rationalize that pornography is ok if it does not involve partnered sexual acts and instead relies only on masturbation. While this may accomplish orgasm the relationship goal of intimate connection is still confounded and ultimately lost.

Worse still, many porn sites include violence toward women, the antithesis of intimate connection.

You don’t say? YOU DON’T SAY? If only someone had given us some warning that . . .

All right, never mind. I don’t care how the word gets out. I’m just thrilled to see that people are waking up to the threat, and are, just as importantly, are putting together practical guides for how to break free of the habitual use of porn, and how to help your relationship recover when a partner or spouse has been a user.

This help is long overdue. For the last few decades, if a woman discovered that her husband was using porn, the secular world would have sneered: Get over it, toots. Porn is normal and healthy, and lots of guys and gals like to take a look because it’s fun. It relieves stress, and makes sex sexier. So stop being such a killjoy and deal with it.

Unfortunately, Catholics might respond in a way that’s just as unhelpful. A shocked and wounded wife might hear: You must instantly forgive and trust him again, because marriage is a sacrament. Ask yourself if you’re being generous enough with your body, that he feels like he needs to look elsewhere. At least he’s not beating you! Remember those lady saints married to brutal Roman governors who eventually converted after four decades of patient suffering. Just be like that. Toots.

Horrible. Both responses are horrible. They give no help to the offended party, and they give no help to the porn user, who needs it just as badly. It’s a massive mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

But, as always, there is some hope. First is that secular sources are starting to openly talk about porn as an unhealthy habit and even as a public health crisis. Second is that Catholics are now very willing to talk openly about the problem, to admit that many practicing Catholics in seemingly happy marriages are porn users, and that just hitting the confessional isn’t going to fix your brain chemistry or repair your marriage.

I’m giving away three copies of Marcel LeJeune‘s new book, Cleansed: A Catholic Guide to Freedom from Porn (Pauline Books, 2016)LeJeune is a frank and faithful evangelist who has decades of practical experience working with Catholics in the trenches. A recent review of Cleansed says it’s recommended for:

  • Catholics who are ready to kick their porn addiction, or maybe right on the verge of being ready. This could be the tipping point into grace.
  • Anyone who is looking for a strategy-based guide to fight porn addiction. I’m not a man or a porn addict, but it seems like this would be good for men in particular, especially those who already have good accountability groups, support systems, mentors, or role models for a personal connection.
  • People looking for a resource for the addict in their lives: parents, spouses, friends, counselors, mentors, and ministers.
  • Anyone interested in the theology of the body or Catholic teachings on sexuality. When you know how to fight good desire gone wrong, you have a weapon for when disorder comes after you. If the enemy gets to be too strong, you know where to run.

To enter the raffle, leave a comment on this post (not on Facebook, please!). (I deleted the Rafflecopter entry form because it wasn’t letting me change the start time). I’ll choose three winners and announce them on Friday, April 15.

Friends, I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a jerk, but here we go: if pornography has hurt you, there are numerous online support groups for people who want to quit porn, or who are dealing with a spouse who is trying to quit. You have my prayers, but I do not have any advice for you. I humbly ask you not to write to me for advice. You have my prayers. It is not a topic I am qualified or equipped to give advice about. Thanks for understanding.

 

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